The retrospective commentary is a media staple at the close of each calendar year. We are not immune to the sentiment at the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD). In August of 2015, a conference on the national goals in research, practice, and policy was held; this conference was hosted by the following organizations: the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), the Research and Training Center on Community Living at the University of Minnesota, the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Developmental Disabilities and Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Advancing Employment for Individuals With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, the Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD), The Arc of the United States, and the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Community Living. The meeting's purpose was to outline a 10-year plan for research priorities as an update to the 2005 agenda (Lakin & Turnbull, 2005). Expert working groups were assembled to identify goals likely to have the most impact on practice and policy for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in the United States. A book summarizing the extant literature on research, practice, and policy across the National Goals strands is being published by AAIDD (American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 2015), and a special issue of the AAIDD ejournal, Inclusion, will be published with an extended summary of the recommendations that emerged from the meeting. I encourage the careful review of both the book (what we know) and the special issue of Inclusion (where we should go).
The meeting's plenary address, given by Sue Swanson, Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, framed the planning task for the working groups. Swenson's essential message, which follows my commentary in this issue, was the importance of honoring the work and inspiration of those before us while looking beyond yesterday's barriers. She challenged the research community to be expansive in considering what constitutes “science,” reminding us that the foundations of inquiry in disability often emerge from our “moral roots” as much as empirical facts. Thus, she asserted that evidence is important except when it is not important, and that research serves as the foundation of policy, except when policy does not need research. A very Buddhist-like methodologist, I think.
Swenson's message was the starting point for the goal-setting exercises of the 10 working groups on aging, education, employment, families, health and wellness, justice, long-term services, self-determination and self-advocacy, social inclusion, and workforce. The specific goals emerging from the groups are too numerous to summarize here but follow the essential themes that have driven our field for a generation: pushing the boundaries of what is possible; seeking equity and justice; and, above all, consciously anchoring the implications of our work on moral foundations.
As a segue (and yes, some advertising) for the release of the updated National Goals report, we are borrowing Assistant Secretary Swenson's thematic hook, in this issue of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD), and articles from a few who have preceded us have been reproduced. Published a generation ago in previous volumes of IDD, the articles were selected with the “honor the past” theme in mind. The choice was necessarily arbitrary because there are so many to honor. From the very first volume of IDD, then known as Mental Retardation (MR), I considered Herschel Nisonger's (1963) “blueprint for action,” or Rosemary Dybwad's (1963) description of international parental advocacy as an intriguing juxtaposition to disability's contemporary location in American as well international policy making. Also considered were some of the many reflections on the potential of mainstreaming (Blatt, 1979; MacMillan, 1973) and Wolf Wolfensberger's (1964) postdoctoral research on European approaches to IDD, where he expressed the concern that, if “ . . . a researcher 50 years from now were to attempt a historical assessment of U.S. programs in the 1950s and early 1960s, he would be greatly deceived if he relied upon the published literature alone” (p. 281). As an aside, appearing in volume 1, issue 1 of MR, there was a hotel reservation form for the 87th national meeting of the American Association on Mental Deficiency (AAMD). Room rates for the Portland, Oregon, Hilton hotel were $9. Presumably students stayed at the New Heatherman Hotel on S. Salmon Street, where nightly rates were set at a more reasonable $6 per night.
I settled upon three works that reflect the work and thinking that was precedent-setting at the time but whose boundaries our field has shattered in ways unanticipated by the authors: Marc Gold and Craig R. Barclay (1973), Whitney Young (1969), and Burton Blatt (1968). The reasons for selection of Gold and Barclay's article may not be readily apparent and, indeed, somewhat mysterious to most. Marc Gold passed away shortly after I began graduate studies at the University of Illinois, where he had developed the “try another way” approach to working with persons with what was then labeled moderate and severe retardation. The article describes what most will see as conventional behavioral techniques of the 1970s. But embedded in the verbiage on visual discrimination, prompts, and trials to criterion is a fundamental belief that limitations were not inherent in the person but rather a function of diminished expectations and use of methods that simply lacked imagination. Gold and Barclay's optimism was revolutionary at the time. For Gold and Barclay, productive participation in sheltered workshops was a possibility for even the most impaired. And now we have employment first.
The Young (1969) article, “Poverty, Intelligence, and Life in the Inner City,” is prescient at a couple of different levels. The author, Whitney M. Young, Jr., was known primarily for his leadership of the National Urban League, moving the organization to the forefront of the civil rights movement. In this article, he discusses the intersection of social and economic deprivation, race, and disability. Some 46 years later, we can safely categorize this as an old story, but one whose relevance is stubbornly persistent in the American disability dialogue. Attention to issues of diversity or lack thereof was a cross-cutting thread throughout the National Goals meeting. What I find significant in this writing is the framing of the intersection of race and disability over 4 decades ago in terms of justice and equity and the challenge given to a society just beginning to reconcile the notion of civil rights for all races. Interestingly, it is an appeal directed to “white people,” to the “elite of our citizenry” to do more. How delighted Young would be with the self-advocacy and empowerment initiatives of the National Goals.
Finally, Burton Blatt's (1968) “The Dark Side of the Mirror” was based on invited testimony to the Massachusetts legislature in 1967 regarding improving the conditions of the state “schools.” His appearance was framed in terms of the expert testimony of a clinician on the quality of institutional care but, ultimately, Blatt's argument and appeal was predicated on what was right and just. Recommendations emerging from the 2015 meeting were framed in terms of optimization—of health, inclusion, and an array of measureable impacts—well beyond Blatt's plea that “no resident needs to live in a denuded state.”
And so I invite you to read Assistant Secretary Swenson's commentary and, especially, her message to “honor our past, our leaders, the men and women whose research and assertions brought us to where we are. Then get over it.” The language (e.g., “mentally retarded) and focus (“sheltered workshop practices”) of the reprinted articles are dated of course, but the essential message should still resonate across the decades. As Swenson notes, we will most certainly be the “barbarous ancestors” of the next generation—but the message of boundless possibility, justice and equity, and morality should still resonate in our works.